“Tonight,” US President Barack Obama said in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday, “I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.”
That claim was about as accurate as former US President George W. Bush’s announcement more than seven years ago on May 1st, 2003: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”
At the time of Bush’s victory lap on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, only 139 US military personnel had died in the project of invading and occupying Iraq.
Even as Obama put the final touches to his own gloss on the same speech, the 4,278th American to die in Iraq since that speech fell to a sniper’s bullet in Tikrit.
Obama claims that the 50,000 US troops remaining in Iraq aren’t “combat troops” — that their new mission is “advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces, supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions, and protecting our civilians.”
If ever such a creature as the “non-combat troop” existed, that species is long extinct — and would in any case constitute an anachronism in an era of wars lacking distinctions such as “front lines” and “rear areas.” The remaining US troops are combat units with previous tours in Iraq. They remain under arms. When — as is inevitable — the situation calls upon them to do so, they will fight. Just as inevitably, some of them will die. The only change here is a politically convenient change of labels.
The US military force remaining in Iraq is as large — and surely as beset — as Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the siege of Petersburg in 1864-1865. Including the technically civilian mercenaries (“private contractors”) who’ve been brought in to replace departing troops, it’s probably as large as its counterpart in that siege, Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac.
This war, which has raged more or less continuously since 1990, is far from over. The reasons for its longevity — and for its likely extension into the distant future — may be found not on the ground in Iraq, but in the campaign headquarters of American politicians and the boardrooms of American profiteers who benefit from its continuation.
The war on Iraq was never about “blood for oil,” or at least not just that. It’s always been about blood for armored humvees, blood for “smart” bombs, blood for no-bid contracts to build and operate bases, blood for jobs (and votes) in your congresscritter’s district, blood for campaign contributions, blood for ever-expanding political power and for never-ending access to your wallet.
War is the health of the state — and my, but isn’t the state healthy? Iraq is the political class’s $200 running shoes and tailored track suit. Afghanistan is its mid-morning swim and its organic arugula salad for lunch. Generals Petraeus and Odierno are its personal trainers; Barack Obama its obsequious masseur.
And you? You get to pick up the check. And perhaps donate the blood of your sons and daughters for the cause.